If Mark Casse had any doubts about Prospective fighting off Golden Ticket through the stretch run of the Grade II, $350,000 Tampa Bay Derby on Saturday, his 3-year-old colt did an awesome job dispelling them.
Headed by Golden Ticket with a furlong to run, Prospective surged again under jockey Luis Contreras to post a ¾-length victory in 1:43.35 for the mile-and-a-sixteenth at Tampa Bay Downs, the second-fastest time in the race’s 32-year history. The only faster winning time was by Street Sense (1:43.11) in 2007.
“I rode him pretty hard,” Casse said jokingly, his voice hoarse from yelling. “Was I worried? Well, I wish he could have won by five. But was I worried? You know, he’s a fighter, and I didn’t really think anybody would beat him once he made the lead.”
Wearing blinkers for the first time, Prospective moved smoothly between Fox Rules and Spring Hill Farm approaching the final turn, overtook pace setter Cajun Charlie with ease and appeared as if he might cruise to victory.
But Golden Ticket, who broke his maiden in his previous outing at Gulfstream, cut the corner smoothly under jockey Manoel Cruz to make it a battle royale to the finish.
Prospective paid $8.20 to win as the third betting choice in the 11-horse field. Cozzetti ralled nicely to finish third by a ¾-length margin from the 11-5 favorite, Spring Hill Farm. Grade III Sam F. Davis Stakes winner Battle Hardened was sixth.
Also Saturday on Tampa Bay Downs Festival Day, Martin Schwartz’s 5-year-old mare Zagora made it 2-for-2 this season in Grade III turf races locally, powering to a one-and-three-quarter length victory from Federation in the 14th running of the Grade III, $150,000 Hillsborough Stakes for older fillies and mares.
Zagora, a Grade I winner trained by Chad Brown and ridden by Javier Castellano, had won the Grade III, $150,000 Endeavour Stakes on Feb. 4. Her time Saturday for the about one-mile-and-an-eighth distance was 1:46.97, a stakes record for the nine-furlong distance. Zagora paid $3.60 as a heavy favorite in the nine-horse field.
In the 32nd running of the $100,000 Stonewall Farm Ocala Suncoast Stakes for 3-year-old fillies, Michael B. Tabor’s Wait Til Dawn affirmed her 6-5 odds by rolling through the stretch despite interference from runner-up Ciguaraya for a half-length victory. The winner’s time for the mile-and-40-yards was 1:40.58. Wait Til Dawn is trained by Todd Pletcher and was ridden by Castellano.
As exciting as the Stonewall Farm Ocala Suncoast Stakes and Hillsborough were, the Tampa Bay Derby was able to live up to its considerable billing, especially with Prospective looking so strong virtually every step of the way.
“He (Prospective) moved a little earlier than I expected, but I just tried to keep him quiet and save as much horse as I could for the stretch,” Contreras said. “The inside post really helped me a lot because I saved ground into the first turn.
“The pace was much faster than in the Sam F. Davis (in which Prospective finished second to Battle Hardened) and the blinkers seemed to make him more aggressive. Man, did he want to run today,” Contreras said. “But he let me keep him in hand when there was an opening between horses making the far turn. I asked him again entering the stretch and I thought we had it won, but then (Golden Ticket) came up inside us and he had to respond again.
“I kept hitting him with the left hand and he just kept going. He never quit.”
Prospective, a Kentucky-bred son of Malibu Moon-Spirited Away, by Awesome Again, is owned by John C. Oxley, who underwent hip surgery recently and was unable to attend the Tampa Bay Derby in person.
“He is doing very well and I’m sure he’s very happy and he’ll be fine for the next one,” said Casse, who indicated Prospective may be pointed toward the Grade I Wood Memorial at Aqueduct On April 7. “The Oxleys have stepped up and given me the opportunity to be able to go out and buy horses, so to be able to reward them with something like this is special.”
Casse said Prospective was a different, more mature horse than in the Davis. Now 4-for-7 lifetime, he made his victorious 2012 debut Jan. 14 at Tampa Bay Downs in the Pasco Stakes at seven furlongs.
“I was shocked he made the lead so early today, but with the blinkers he was much more aggressive,” Casse said. “He’s a character—he just does what he has to do.
“We put blinkers on to get him to focus a little more. When we watched him in the Sam F. Davis, he was running down the backside the entire way with his head cocked and he was kind of looking at things. Luis said about the 3/8-mile pole of the Davis he thought he was finished, but then when the horse came outside him he started running again. I said to Mr. Oxley, this (the blinkers) will get him a little closer in the early running and it worked,” Casse said.
Kenneth McPeek, the trainer of Golden Ticket, was pleased with the runner-up’s effort. “He ran really good,” McPeek said. “I like winning, though. I’m not sure what’s next—we’ll check out all our options and go from there. He lifted himself up in class today. Up until now, he’s been trying to figure it out. I think the two turns helped him and now that we’ve got him going longer, I think he’s a little bit better.”
Cruz rode Golden Ticket to his maiden triumph and had expected a strong performance Saturday from the son of Speightstown.
“I thought this guy was going to get good today,” Cruz said. “He had won his last real easily and that was why Mr. McPeek thought we might fit in here. When I saw (Prospective) making his move, I knew we would have to match him to win. I got an opening on the inside and we had the lead for a few strides, but the other guy was too tough today.”